China is facing a new health burden. A new study says that the rate of diabetes among Chinese teenagers is more than four times the rate of diabetes in U.S teenagers.

Many experts say that China is facing a diabetes epidemic. Changes in lifestyle such as poor diet and lack of exercise have made China the diabetes capital of the world.

For the study, researchers followed nearly 29,000 people from 300 communities for more than two decades, between 1989 and 2011. Interviews and surveys were taken at regular intervals from these people.

"What is unprecedented is the changes in diet, weight and cardiovascular risk for children age 7 and older. These estimates highlight the huge burden that China's health care system is expected to face if nothing changes," said Barry Popkin, PhD, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health, study leader.

The rate of diabetes in children between the ages of 7 and 17 was 1.9 percent while 14 percent of all children were pre-diabetic, meaning that they were at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Researchers also found that the children had elevated levels of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) which is an indicator for glucose concentration in the plasma.

"The findings suggest a very high burden of chronic disease risk starting at a young age, with 1.7 million Chinese children ages 7-18 having diabetes and another 27.7 million considered prediabetic. In addition, more than one-third of children under age 18 had high levels of at least one cardiometabolic risk factor," Popkin said.

US Fares Better

The research team then compared the rate of diabetes in Chinese teenagers to that of teenagers in the U.S. They found that 1.9 percent of Chinese children aged between 12 and18 had diabetes, compared to 0.5 percent of children in the U.S. Even the rate of inflammation was greater in Chinese teenagers compared to other countries. In the U.S, 8.5 percent of teenagers have high inflammation risk compared to 12.1 percent of Chinese adolescents.

Approximately 151,000 people in the U.S. below the age of 20 years have diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The number of individuals with high levels of at least one cardiovascular risk factor increased to 85 percent in individuals age 40 and older. Of even greater concern is the fact that we see these high levels of risk in individuals living across the entire country – in rural and urban, as well as high and low-income areas. So the impending health care costs and implications are immense," said Penny Gordon-Larsen, professor of nutrition in UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The study was published in Obesity Reviews.